Self Control: A Novel

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CHAPTER XIII.

THE picture at last was finished, and Laura herself accompanied it to the print-shop. Wilkins immediately delivered to her the price, which, he said, had been for some time in his hands. It now occurred to Laura to ask who had been the purchaser of her work. "Why, ma'am," said Wilkins, "the gentleman desired me not to mention his name." "Indeed!" said Laura, surprised.

"These were his orders, ma'am, but I shouldn't think there could be any great harm in telling it just to you, ma'am." "I have no wish to hear it," said Laura, with a look which compelled the confidant to unwilling discretion; and again thanking him for the trouble he had taken, she returned home. The truth was, that De Courcy had foreseen the probability of Laura's question; and averse to be known to her under a character that savoured of patronage and protection, had forbidden the shopkeeper to mention who had purchased the pictures.

Again did Laura, delighted, present to her father the produce of her labours, her warm heart glowing with the joys of usefulness. But not as formerly did he with pleasure receive the gift. With the fretfulness of disease, he refused to share in her satisfaction. Through the gloom of melancholy every object appeared distorted; and Captain Montreville saw in his daughter's well-earned treasure only the wages of degrading toil. "It is hard, very hard," said he with a deep sigh, "that you, my lovely child, the descendant of such a family, should be dependent on your daily labour for your support."

"Oh, call it not hard, my dear father," cried Laura. "Thanks, a thousand thanks, to your kind foresight, which, in teaching me this blessed art, secured to me the only real independence, by making me independent of all but my own exertions."

"Child," said Montreville, fretfully, "there is an enthusiasm about you that will draw you into ten thousand errors; you are quite mistaken in fancying yourself independent. Your boasted art depends upon the taste, the very caprice, of the public for its reward; and you, of course, upon the same caprice for your very existence."

"It is true," answered Laura mildly, "that my success depends upon taste, and that the public taste is capricious; but some, I should hope, would never be wanting, who could value and reward the labours of industry. You observe," added she with a smile, "that I rest nothing upon genius."

"Be that as it may," returned Captain Montreville, with increasing querulousness, "I cannot endure to see you degraded into an artist, and therefore I desire there may be no more of this traffic."

This was the first time that Montreville had ever resorted to the method well known and approved by those persons of both sexes, who, being more accustomed to the exercise of authority than of argument, choose to wield the weapon in the use of which practice has made them the most expert. Laura looked at him with affectionate concern. "Alas !" thought she, "if bodily disease is pitiable, how far more deplorable are its ravages on the mind." But even if her father had been in perfect health, she would not have chosen the moment of irritation for reply. Deeply mortified at this unexpected prohibition, she yet endeavoured to consider it as only one of the transient caprices of illness, and to find pleasure in the thought, that the hour was come when De Courcy's daily visit would restore her father to some degree of cheerfulness.

But De Courcy's visit made no one cheerful. He was himself melancholy and absent. He said he had only a few minutes to spare, yet lingered above an hour; often rose to go, yet irresolutely resumed his seat. At last, starting up, he said, "The longer I remain here, the more unwilling I am to go; and yet I must go, without even knowing when I may return." "Are you going to leave us?" said Montreville, in a tone of despondency;" then we shall be solitary indeed." "I fear," said Laura, looking with kind solicitude in De Courcy's face, "that something distressing calls you away." "Distressing indeed," said De Courcy. "My excellent old friend Mr Wentworth has lost his only son, and I must bear the news to the parents." "Is there no one but you to do this painful office?" asked Montreville. "None," answered De Courcy, "on whom it could with such propriety fall. Wentworth was one of my earliest friends; he was my father's early friend. I owe him a thousand obligations; and I would fain, if it be possible, soften this heavy blow. Besides," added he, endeavouring to speak more cheerfully, "I have a selfish purpose to serve--I want to see how a Christian bears misfortune." "And can you fix no time for your return?" asked the captain mournfully. De Courcy shook his head. "You will not return while your presence is necessary to Mr Wentworth," said Laura, less anxious to regain De Courcy's society than that he should support the character of benevolence with which her imagination had justly invested him. Grieved by the prospect of losing his companion, fretted by an indefinite idea that he was wrong in his ungracious rejection of his daughter's efforts to serve him, ashamed of his distempered selfishness, yet unable to conquer it, Captain Montreville naturally became more peevish; for the consciousness of having acted wrong, without the resolution to repair the fault, is what no temper can stand. "Your charity is mighty excursive, Laura," said he. "If Mr De Courcy delay his return long, I shall probably not live to profit by it." Laura, whose sweetness no captious expressions could ruffle, would have spoken to turn her father's view to brighter prospects; but the rising sob choked her voice, and curtseying hastily to De Courcy, she left the room. De Courcy now no longer found it difficult to depart. He soon bade the captain farewell, promising to return as soon as it was possible, though he had no great faith in Montreville's dismal prediction, uttered in the true spirit of hypochondriasis, that he would come but to lay his head in the grave.

As he was descending the stairs, Laura, who never forgot in selfish feeling to provide for the comforts of others, followed him, to beg that when be had leisure he would write to her father. Laura blushed and hesitated as she made this request, not because she had in making it any selfish motive whatever, but purely because she was unused to ask favours. Flattered by the request, but much more by her confusion, the countenance of De Courcy glowed with pleasure. "Certainly I shall write," said he with great animation, "if you--I mean, if Captain Montreville wish it." These words, and the tone in which they were uttered, made Laura direct a look of inquiry to the speaker's face, where his thoughts were distinctly legible; and she no sooner read them, than, stately and displeased, she drew back. "I believe it will give my father pleasure to hear from you, sir," said she, and coldly turned away. "Is there no man," thought she, "exempt from this despicable vanity--from the insignificant Warren to the respectable De Courcy?" Poor Montague would fain have besought her forgiveness for his presumption in supposing it possible that she could have any pleasure in hearing of him; but the look with which she turned from him, left him no courage to speak to her again, and he mournfully pursued his way to Audley Street.

He was scarcely gone when Warren called, and Laura, very little disposed for his company, took shelter in her own room. Her father, however, suffered no inconvenience from being left alone to the task of entertaining his visitor, for Warren found means to make the conversation sufficiently interesting.

He began by lamenting the captain's long detention from his home, and condoled with him upon the effects which London air had produced upon his health. He regretted that Mr Williams's absence from town had retarded the final settlement of Montreville's business; informed him that Mr Baynard's executors had appointed an agent to inspect his papers; and, finally, surprised him by an unconditional offer to sign a new bond for the annuity. He could not bear, he said, to think of the captain's being detained in London to the prejudice of his health, especially as it was evident that Miss Montreville suffered from the same cause. He begged that a regular bond might be drawn up, which he would sign at a moment's notice, and which he would trust to the captain's honour to destroy, if it should be found that the 1500 mentioned as the price of the annuity had never been paid.

At this generous proposal, surprise and joy almost deprived Montreville of the power of utterance; gratefully clasping Warren's hand, "Oh, sir !" he exclaimed, "you have, I hope, secured an independence for my child. I thank you--with what fervour, you can never know till you are yourself a father." Seemingly anxious to escape from his thanks, Warren again promised that he would be ready to sign the bond on the following day, or as soon as it was ready for signature. Captain Montreville again began to make acknowledgments, but Warren, who appeared rather distressed than gratified by them, took his leave, and left the captain to the joyful task of communicating the news to Laura.

She listened with grateful pleasure. "How much have I been to blame," said she, "for allowing myself to believe that a little vanity necessarily excluded every kind and generous feeling! What a pity it is that this man should condescend to such an effeminate attention to trifles!" Lost to the expectation, almost to the desire, of seeing Hargrave, she now had no tie to London but one which was soon to be broken, for Mrs and Miss De Courcy were about to return to Norwood. With almost unmixed satisfaction, therefore, she heard her father declare that in less than a week he should be on his way to Scotland. With pleasure she looked forward to revisiting her dear Glenalbert, and anticipated the effects of its quiet shades and healthful air upon her father. Already she beheld her home, peaceful and inviting, as when, from the hill that sheltered it, she last looked back upon its simple beauties. She heard the ripple of its waters; she trod the well-known path; met the kind familiar face, and listened to the cordial welcome, with such joy as they feel who return from the land of strangers.

Nor was Montreville less pleased with the prospect of returning to his accustomed comforts and employments--of feeling himself once more among objects which he could call his own. His own! There was magic in the word, that transformed the cottage at Glenalbert into a fairy palace--the garden and the farm into a little world. To leave London interfered indeed with his hopes of De Courcy as a lover for his daughter; but he doubted not that the impression was already made, and that Montague would follow Laura to Scotland.

His mind suddenly relieved from anxiety, his spirits rose, all his constitutional good nature returned, and he caressed his daughter with a fondness that seemed intended to atone for the captious behaviour of the morning. At dinner he called for wine, a luxury in which he rarely indulged, drank to their safe arrival at Glenalbert, and obliged Laura to pledge him to the health of Warren. To witness her father's cheerfulness was a pleasure which Laura had of late tasted so sparingly, that it had the most exhilarating effect upon her spirits; and neither De Courcy nor Hargrave would have been much gratified, could they have seen the gaiety with which she supported the absence of the one, and the neglect of the other.

She was beginning to enjoy one of those cheerful domestic evenings which had always been her delight, when Miss Dawkins came to propose that she should accompany her and her mother on a visit to Mrs Jones. Laura would have excused herself, by saying that she could not leave her father alone; but the captain insisted upon her going, and declared that he would himself be of the party. She had therefore no apology, and, deprived of the amusement which she would have preferred, contentedly betook herself to that which was within her reach. She did not sit in silent contemplation of her own superiority, or of the vulgarity of her companions, nor did she introduce topics of conversation calculated to illustrate either; but having observed that even the most ignorant have some subject on which they can talk with ease and pleasure, and even be heard with advantage, she suffered others to lead the discourse, rightly conjecturing that they would guide it to the channel which they judged most favourable to their own powers. She was soon engaged with Mrs Dawkins in a dissertation on various branches of household economy, and to the eternal degradation of her character as a heroine, actually listened with interest to the means of improving the cleanliness, beauty, and comfort of her dwelling.

Mrs Jones was highly flattered by the captain's visit, and exerted herself to entertain him, her husband being inclined to taciturnity by a reason which Bishop Butler has pronounced to be a good one. Perceiving that Montreville was an Englishman, she concluded that nothing but dire necessity could have exiled him to Scotland. She inquired what town he lived in; and being answered that his residence was many miles distant from any town, she held up her hands in pity and amazement. But when she heard that Montreville had been obliged to learn the language of the Highlands, and that it was Laura's vernacular tongue, she burst into an exclamation of wonder. "Mercy upon me!" cried she, "can you make that outlandish spluttering so as them savages can know what you says? Well, if I had been among them a thousand years, I should never have made out a word of their gibberish."

"The sound of it is very uncouth to a stranger," said Captain Montreville, "but now I have learnt to like it."

"And do them there wild men make you wear them little red and green petticoats?" asked Mrs Jones, in a tone of compassionate inquiry.

"Oh no!" said Captain Montreville, "they never interfered with my dress. But you seem quite acquainted with the Highlands. May I ask if you have been there?"

"Ay, that I have, to my sorrow," said Mrs Jones ; and forthwith proceeded to recount her adventures, pretty nearly in the same terms as she had formerly done to Laura.

"And what was the name of this unfortunate place?" inquired the captain, when having narrated the deficiency of hot rolls, Mrs Jones made the pause in which her auditors were accustomed to express their astonishment and horror.

"That was what I asked the waiter often and often," replied she, "but I never could make head or tail of what he said. Sometimes it sounded like a rookery; sometimes like one thing, sometimes like another. So I takes the road-book and looks it out, and it looked something like a rasher, only not right spelt. So, thinks I, they'll call it a rasher, because there is good bacon here; and I asked the man if they were famous for pigs, and he said no, they got all their pigs from the manufactory in Glasgow, and that they weren't famous for any thing but fresh herrings, as are catched in that black Loch Lomond, where they wanted me to go."

"Kate," said Mr Jones, setting down his tea-cup, and settling his hands upon his knees, "you know I think you're wrong about them herrings."

"Mr Jones," returned the lady, with a look that showed that the herrings had been the subject of former altercation, "for certain the waiter told me that they came out of the loch, and to what purpose should he tell lies about it?"

"I tells you, Kate, that herrings come out of the sea," said Mr Jones.

"Well, that loch is a great fresh-water sea," said Mrs Jones.

"Out of the salt sea," insisted Mr Jones.

"Ay," said Mrs Jones, "them salt herrings as we gets here; but it stands to reason, Mr Jones, that the fresh herrings should come out of fresh water."

"I say, cod is fresh, and doesn't it come out of the sea?--answer me that, Mrs Jones."

"It is no wonder the cod is fresh," returned the lady, "when the fishmongers keep fresh water running on it day and night."

"Kate, it's of no use argufying: I say herrings come out of the sea. What say you, sir?" turning to Captain Montreville.

The captain softened his verdict in the gentleman's favour, by saying, that Mrs Jones was right in her account of the waiter's report, though the man, in speaking of "the loch," meant not Loch Lomond, but an arm of the sea.

"I know'd it," said Mr Jones, triumphantly; "for haven't I read it in the newspaper as government offers a reward to any body that'll put most salt upon them Scotch herrings, and isn't that what makes the salt so dear?" So, having settled this knotty point to his own satisfaction, Mr Jones again applied himself to his tea.

"Did you return to Glasgow by the way of Loch Lomond?" inquired Captain Montreville.

"Ay," cried Mrs Jones; "that was what the people of the inn wanted us to do ; but then I looked out, and seed a matter of forty of them there savages, with the little petticoats and red and white stockings, loitering and lolling about the inn-door, doing nothing in the varsal world, except wait till it was dark to rob and murder us all, bless us! So, thinks I, let me once get out from among you in a whole skin, and catch me in the Highlands again: so as soon as the chaise could be got, we just went the way we came."

"Did you find good accommodation at Glasgow?" said the captain.

"Yes," replied Mrs Jones; "but, after all, captain, there's no country like our own. Do you know, I never got so much as a buttered muffin all the while I was in Scotland?"

The conversation was here interrupted by an exclamation from Mrs Dawkins, who, knowing that she had nothing new to expect in her daughter's memoirs of her Scottish excursion, had continued to talk with Laura apart. "Goodness me!" she cried; "why, Kate, as sure as eggs, here's miss never seed a play in all her life!" "Never saw a play! Never saw a play!" exclaimed the landlord and landlady at once. "Well, that's so odd ; but to be sure, poor soul, how should she, among them there hills?" "Suppose," said Mrs Jones, "we should make a party, and go to-night. We shall be just in time." Laura was desirous to go: her father made no objection; and Mr Jones, with that feeling of good-natured self-complacency which most people have experienced, arising from the discovery that another is new to a pleasure with which he himself is familiar, offered, as he expressed it, "to do the genteel thing, and treat her himself."

The party was speedily arranged, and Laura soon found herself seated in the pit of the theatre. The scene was quite new to her; for her ignorance of public places was even greater than her companions had discovered it to be. She was dazzled with the glare of the lights and the brilliancy of the company, and confused with the murmur of innumerable voices; but the curtain rose, and her attention was soon confined to the stage. The play was the Gamester, the most domestic of our tragedies; and in the inimitable representation of Mrs Beverley, Laura found an illusion strong enough to absorb for the time every faculty of her soul. Of the actress she thought not; but she loved and pitied Mrs Beverley with a fervour that made her insensible to the amusement which she afforded to her companions. Meanwhile her countenance--as beautiful, almost as expressive--followed every change in that of Mrs Siddons. She wept with her; listened, started, rejoiced, with her; and when Mrs Beverley repulsed the villain Stukely, Laura's eyes too flashed with "heaven's own lightnings." By the time the representation was ended, she was so much exhausted by the strength and rapidity of her emotions, that she was scarcely able to answer to the questions of "How have you been amused?" and "How did you like it?" with which her companions all at once assailed her. "Well," said Miss Julia, when they were arrived at home, "I think nothing is so delightful as a play. I should like to go every night--shouldn't you?" "No," answered Laura. "Once or twice in a year would be quite sufficient for me. It occupies my thoughts too much for a mere amusement."

In the course of the two following days, Laura had sketched more than twenty heads of Mrs Siddons, besides completing the preparations for her, journey to Scotland. On the third, the captain, who could now smile at his own imaginary debility, proposed to carry the bond to receive Mr Warren's signature. The fourth was to be spent with Mrs De Courcy; and on the morning of the fifth, the travellers intended to depart.

On the appointed morning, Captain Montreville set out on an early visit to Portland Street, gaily telling his daughter at parting that he would return in an hour or two, with her dowry in his pocket. When he knocked at Mr Warren's door, the servant informed him that his master had gone out, but that expecting the captain to call, he had left a message to beg that Montreville would wait till he returned, which would be very soon.

The captain was then shown into a back parlour, where he endeavoured to amuse himself with some books that were scattered round the room. They consisted of amatory poems and loose novels; and one by one he threw them aside in disgust, lamenting that one who was capable of a kind and generous action should seek pleasure in such debasing studies. The room was hung with prints and pictures, but they partook of the same licentious character; and Montreville shuddered as the momentary thought darted across his mind, that it was strange that the charms of Laura had made no impression on one whose libertinism in regard to her sex was so apparent. It was but momentary. "No!" thought he, "her purity would awe the most licentious ; and I am uncandid, ungrateful, to harbour even for a moment such an idea of the man who has acted towards her and me with the most disinterested benevolence."

He waited long, but Warren did not appear; and he began to blame himself for having neglected to fix the exact time of his visit. To remedy this omission, he rang for writing materials; and telling the servant that he could stay no longer, left a note to inform Mr Warren that he would wait upon him at twelve o'clock next day. The servant, who was Mr Warren's own valet, seemed unwilling to allow the captain to depart, and assured him that he expected his master every minute; but Montreville, who knew that there was no depending upon the motions of a mere man of pleasure, would be detained no longer.

He returned home; and finding the parlour empty, was leaving it to seek Laura in her painting-room, when he observed a letter lying on the table addressed to himself. The hand-writing was new to him. He opened it--the signature was equally so. The contents were as follows:--


"SIR--The writer of this letter is even by name a stranger to you. If this circumstance should induce you to discredit my information, I offer no proof of my veracity but this simple one, that obviously no selfish end can be served by my present interference. Of the force of my motive you cannot judge, unless you have yourself lured to destruction the heart that trusted you, seen it refuse all comfort, reject all reparation, and sink at last in untimely decay.

From a fate like this, though not softened like this by anxious tenderness, nor mourned like this by remorseful pity, but aggravated by being endured for one incapable of any tender or generous feeling, it is my purpose, sir, to save your daughter. I was last night one of a party where her name was mentioned--where she was described as lovely, innocent, and respectable; yet the person who so described her, scrupled not to boast of a plan for her destruction. In the hope (why should I pretend a better motive?) of softening the pangs of late but bitter self-reproach, by saving one fellow-creature from perhaps reluctant ruin, one family from domestic shame, I drew from him your address, and learnt that to ingratiate himself with you, and with his intended victim, he has pretended to offer as a gift what he knew that he could not long withhold. He means to take the earliest opportunity of inveigling her from your care, secure, as he boasts, of her pardon in her attachment. Ill, indeed, does her character, even as described by him, accord with such a boast; yet even indifference might prove no guard against fraud, which, thus warned, you may defy.

A fear that my intention should be frustrated by the merited contempt attached to anonymous information, inclines me to add my name, though aware that it can claim no authority with a stranger. I am, sir, your obedient servant,          PHILIP WILMOT."


Captain Montreville read this letter more than once. It bore marks of such sincerity that he knew not how to doubt of the intelligence it gave; and he perceived with dismay that the business which he had considered as closed, was as far as ever from a conclusion; for how could he accept a favour which he had been warned to consider as the wages of dishonour? For Laura he had indeed no fear. She was no less safe in her own virtue and discretion, than in the contemptuous pity with which she regarded Warren. This letter would put her upon her guard against leaving the house with him, which Captain Montreville now recollected that he had often solicited her to do, upon pretence of taking the air in his curricle.

But must he still linger in London; still be cheated with vain hopes; still fear for the future subsistence of his child; still approach the very verge of poverty; perhaps be obliged to defend his rights by a tedious law-suit? His heart sank at the prospect, and he threw himself on a seat, disconsolate and cheerless.

He had been long in the habit of seeking relief from every painful feeling in the tenderness of Laura, of finding in her enduring spirit a support to the weakness of his own; and he now sought her, in the conviction that she would either discover some advantage to be drawn from this disappointment, or lighten it to him by her affectionate sympathy. He knocked at her door; she did not answer. He called her--all was silent. He rang the bell, and inquired whether she was below, and was answered that she had gone out with Mr Warren in his curricle two hours before. The unfortunate father heard no more. Wildly striking his hand upon his breast, "She is lost!" he cried, and sank to the ground. The blood burst violently from his mouth and nostrils, and he became insensible.

The family were soon assembled round him; and a surgeon being procured, he declared that Montreville had burst a blood-vessel, and that nothing but the utmost care and quiet could save his life. Mrs Dawkins, with great humanity, attended him herself, venting in whispers to the surgeon her compassion for Montreville, and her indignation against the unnatural desertion of Laura, whom she abused as a methodistical hypocrite, against whom her wrath was the stronger because she could never have suspected her.

Montreville no sooner returned to recollection, than he declared his resolution instantly to set off in search of his child. In vain did the surgeon expostulate, and assure him that his life would be the forfeit: his only answer was, "Why should I live?--she is lost!" In pursuance of his design, he tried to rise from the bed on which he had been laid; but exhausted nature refused to second him, and again he sank back insensible.

When Montreville called in Portland Street, the servant had deceived him in saying that Warren was not at home. He was not only in the house, but expecting the captain's visit, and prepared to take advantage of it, for the accomplishment of the honourable scheme of which he had boasted to his associates. As soon, therefore, as the servant had disposed of Montreville, Warren mounted his curricle, which was in waiting at a little distance, and driving to Mrs Dawkins's, informed Laura that he had been sent to her by her father, who proposed carrying her to see the British Museum, and for that purpose was waiting her arrival in Portland Street. Entirely unsuspicious of any design, Laura accompanied him without hesitation; and though Portland Street appeared to her greatly more distant than she had imagined it, it was not, till having taken, innumerable turns, she found herself in an open road, that she began to suspect her conductor of having deceived her.

"Whither have you taken me, Mr Warren?" she inquired: "this road does not lead to Portland Street." "Oh yes, it does," answered Warren, "only the way is a little circuitous." "Let us immediately return to the straight one then," said Laura; "my father will be alarmed, and conclude that some accident has happened to us." "Surely, my charming Miss Montreville," said Warren, still continuing to drive on, "you do not fear to trust yourself with me." "Fear you!" repeated Laura, with involuntary disdain. "No; but I am at a loss to guess what has encouraged you to make me the companion of so silly a frolic. I suppose you mean this for an ingenious joke upon my father." "No, 'pon my soul," said the beau, a little alarmed by the sternness of her manner; "I meant nothing but to have an opportunity of telling you that I am quite in love with you, dying for you--faith I am." "You should first have ascertained," answered Laura, with ineffable scorn, "whether I was likely to think the secret worth a hearing. I desire you will instantly return."

The perfect composure of Laura's look and manner (for feeling no alarm, she showed none) made Warren conclude that she was not averse to being detained; and he thought it only necessary that he should continue to make love, to induce her quietly to submit to go on for another half mile, which would bring them to a place where he thought she would be secure. He began, therefore, to act the lover with all the energy he could muster; but Laura interrupted him. "It is a pity," said she, with a smile of calm contempt, "to put a stop to such well-timed gallantry, which is indeed just such as I should have expected from Mr Warren's sense and delicacy. But I would not for the sake of Mr Warren's raptures, nor all else that he has to offer, give my father the most momentary pain, and, therefore, if you do not suffer me to alight this instant, I shall be obliged to claim the assistance of passengers on an occasion very little worthy of their notice." Her contumelious manner entirely undeceived her companion in regard to her sentiments; but it had no other effect upon him except that of adding revenge to the number of his incitements; and perceiving that they were now at a short distance from the house whither he intended to convey her, he continued to pursue his way.

Laura now rose from her seat, and seizing the reins with a force that made the horses rear, she coolly chose that moment to spring from the curricle; and walked back towards the town, leaving her inamorato in the utmost astonishment at her self-possession, as well as rage at her disdainful treatment.

She proceeded till she came to a decent-looking shop, where she entered; and, begging permission to sit down, dispatched one of the shop-boys in search of a hackney coach. A carriage was soon procured, and Laura, concluding that her father, tired of waiting for her, must have left Portland Street, desired to be driven directly home.

As she entered the house, she "was met by Mrs Dawkins. "So, miss!" cried she, "you have made a fine spot of work on't. You have murdered your father." "Good heavens!" cried Laura, turning as pale as death; "what is it you mean; where is my father?" "Your father is on his death-bed, miss, and you may thank your morning ride for it. Thinking you were off, he burst a blood-vessel in the fright, and the doctor says the least stir in the world will finish him."

Laura turned sick to death. Cold drops stood upon her forehead, and she shook in every limb. She made an instinctive attempt to ascend the stair; but her strength failed her, and she sank upon the steps. The sight of her agony changed in a moment Mrs Dawkins's indignation into pity. "Don't take on so, miss," said she; "to be sure you didn't mean it. If he is kept quiet, he may mend still, and now that you're come back too. By the bye, I may as well run up and tell him," "Oh, stop!" cried Laura, reviving at once in the sudden dread that such incautious news would destroy her father. "Stay!" said she, pressing with one hand her bursting forehead, while with the other she detained Mrs Dawkins. "Let me think that we may not agitate him. Oh no! I cannot think;" and leaning her head on Mrs Dawkins's shoulder, she burst into an agony of tears.

These salutary tears restored her recollection, and she inquired whether the surgeon of whom Mrs Dawkins had spoken, was still in the house. Being answered that he was in Montreville's apartment, she sent to beg that he would speak with her. He came, and she entreated him to inform her father, with the caution which his situation required, that she was returned and safe. She followed him to the door of Montreville's apartment, and stood listening in trembling expectation to every thing that stirred within. At last she received the wished-for summons. She entered; she sprang towards the bed. "My child!" cried Montreville, and he clasped her to his bosom, and sobbed aloud. When he was able to speak, "Oh, Laura!" said he, "tell me again that you are safe, and say by what miracle, by what unheard-of mercy, you have escaped." "Compose yourself, my dearest father, for Heaven's sake," cried Laura. "I am indeed safe, and never have been in danger. When Warren found that I refused to join in his frolic, he did not attempt to prevent me from returning home."

She then briefly related the affair as it had appeared to her, suppressing Warren's rhapsodies, from the fear of irritating her father; and he, perceiving that she considered the whole as a frolic, frivolous in its intention, though dreadful in its effects, suffered her to remain in that persuasion. She passed the night by his bedside, devoting every moment of his disturbed repose to fervent prayers for his recovery.

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This presentation of Self Control: A Novel, by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.